Being a police officer is one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and we should treat those officers who work to protect our city with respect and admiration. I appreciate those who risk their lives every day to keep the rest of us safe and it’s unfortunate how far we’ve diverged from that discourse since 9/11. I fully support good cops.
However, it’s also appropriate to hold those officers to a high standard, and to reevaluate the current system. If right now in Minneapolis isn’t the time and place to have a real conversation about police reform, when and where does it happen? While I don’t support fully eliminating police in Minneapolis, it’s no longer time for incremental change at MPD.
Over the past five years the City of Minneapolis has paid out over $50million in police misconduct settlements. This includes the recent $27million settlement for the killing of George Floyd, as well as $20million related to the 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. Over the past five years misconduct payouts have averaged over $10million annually.
While I appreciate Chief Arradondo’s recent policy changes to use of force, there’s clearly more work to do. In addition to being dangerous to the community, leveraging use of force to make arrests is also dangerous for police officers. If we’re serious about making Minneapolis safer for everyone, we should also focus on ways to make it safer to be a cop in Minneapolis. Even if police officers in Minneapolis might soon be under a newly created Department of Public Safety, the community will still need to rely on sworn officers in some capacity moving forward. The city should make every effort to minimize the day-to-day risks of policing, for both officers and citizens.
According to a study cited on Council Member Palmisano’s campaign website, 10%+ of 911 calls could be handled by someone other than sworn officers. I supported the recent Safety for All plan that reallocates 4.4% of the Minneapolis Police Department budget to fund mental health teams and other programs. It’s unfair to officers to ask them to also be mental health professionals, and we could better serve those in crisis by changing our approach.
Our public safety budget has to make space for alternative response from city employees who are well trained and have expertise in these areas. Currently your city council member, as set out in the city charter, has no authority to set policy for the Minneapolis police. Effectively leaving your representative unable to make any sort of significant changes to policing policies.
When you elect someone you should expect they have the power to make change. These proposals are an improvement to the status quo, and the most plausible mechanisms for lasting change. Our public safety budget has to make space for alternative response from city employees who are well trained and have expertise in these areas.
It would be much simpler to change the way we police the city if criminal activity would pause while we have the discussion, but unfortunately that’s not reality. Minneapolis, like most other large cities over the past year, has seen a significant uptick in crime. Carjackings increased by 300% in Minneapolis last year, and continue to grow in 2021.
The March 4th Minneapolis Police Department Review of Crime Trends report showed year to date carjackings are up 209% in 2021, and that 70% of carjackings this year have taken place in the Third and Fifth Police Precincts (South and SW Minneapolis). However, there’s been reporting that most of the carjackings have been by a group known to police.
In an effort to better combat carjackings, MPD teamed up with Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office in December of 2020, but that effort has so far yielded very few tangible results. Days of helicopter surveillance lead to only a handful of cases being referred to the Hennepin County Attorney’s office (and none of those for carjacking).
If there were greater transparency and oversight over policing in Minneapolis (as would be the case with the proposed Department of Public Safety), there would be greater opportunities to leverage technologies such as an improved traffic camera system to utilize to digitally pursue carjacking suspects (instead of dangerous high speed chases).
Unfortunately the current lack of trust, combined with a lack of transparency in the current process (where the mayor and police chief make policies behind closed doors), makes it difficult to even have conversations about what type of tools and resources we believe that police officers in Minneapolis should have access to in order to fight crime.
The proposed changes move law enforcement under a newly created Dept. of Public Safety and adds transparency to the process. That structure would also more closely align with how the State of Minnesota manages public safety, as well as reorganize police, 911, road safety, emergency management, and violence prevention into one department.
Part of reform means we decide as a community what we want to police. Because resources are limited, we should focus our policing and prosecution efforts in areas that will do the most societal good. We should focus on arresting everyone stealing catalytic converters before we arrest even one person for drug possession offenses.
While Minnesota has made some effort towards decriminalization for petty offenders, Minneapolis could be doing more to ensure policing resources aren’t wasted on minor possession offenses. Historically, arrests for drug possession has disproportionately and unfairly impacted communities of color. For instance, cities like Denver and Oakland have already decriminalized possession of psilocybin mushrooms.
This isn’t to say we should arrest and prosecute anyone who steals a candy bar, but we could certainly do more to address the uptick in property crimes. In particular by providing police with the tools and resources to build prosecutorial cases against repeat offenders (such as coordinated catalytic converter thefts, those who repeatedly and knowingly facilitate the sale of stolen property, etc.).